Ken Bell looked straight at the time keeper at the Whatcom Republicans meeting who had just given him the thirty seconds sign. “Oh, I hate you,” he growls menacingly, before lightening the comment with a natural smile. The crowd cracks up as Bell wraps up his pitch for office.
Bell, currently a Whatcom County Planning Commissioner and president of Best Recycling, is trying to add one more job title to his name, port commissioner. My first question is pretty simple, why the port? “It’s in my wheelhouse. I know the business, I know the ramifications of their decisions because I’ve worked with ports up and down the coast as part of Best Recycling.”
He walks me through some of his history in the community: buying a plant from Pete Zuanich, crossing swords with his neighbors in the Silver Beach neighborhood, and watching the waterfront cleanup. The port first caught his interest when they bought his office building. “I thought to myself, ‘you have this expensive waterfront cleanup hanging over your heads and you are making a five million dollar building purchase? I still don’t know why they bought it.”
Bell currently serves on the Planning Commission, but he admits it has been a difficult role. “It is easy to get disillusioned on the Planning Commission.” The chair of the Commission, County Council candidate Michelle Luke, agrees. “Of all the cats I have to herd on the commission, Ken is the most un-herdable,” she laughs. “I think he enjoys it that way.”
What are his issues for the port? “Liability. I wish I had a hand in the GP purchase. We have a huge liability there. It is basically a capped landfill . . . and I have some serious questions as to the nature of the contaminants.” He said the port needs to focus on attracting “the right mix of businesses. You need a mix of public and private operations. I haven’t seen the whole plan, but when you do it in chunks, you shortchange yourself.”
I asked him what he thought of the incumbent he was trying to unseat, Mike McAuley. “I like him, he is a nice guy. I just want to have an impact on the port.”
Naturally, I asked him his view on the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal. “We don’t have any say. For me, it is more of a philosophical thing, I honestly believe China will find a way to get coal, whether it is from Bellingham or somewhere else, they will get it. If you got to burn coal, I’d rather see it burned here in the U.S.” I asked if he supports the facility and he gives a half-shrug. “I’m not a big fan, but they are going to get it, we’re just making it more difficult to burn here, we might as well ship it through here,” he pauses and gives me a sly grin, “. . . in a responsible manner.”
Speaking of responsible growth, I ask about the airport which continues to swell every year. “I use the airport a lot,” said Bell. “We are perfectly situated here, we have an opportunity to bring things through our doors and receive the economic impact of all that travel.” However, he was not without a few complaints. “The shuttles don’t quite make sense and we need to do something about the parking there. We are missing an opportunity.”
Technically, the race is non-partisan but with Mike McAuley asking for both parties endorsements (and so far, receiving the Whatcom Democrats) I asked him where he falls. “I’m a little more right of center than most.” Do you consider yourself a Republican? “You know, that is the hardest question you have asked me. I was a Republican for years, but now, I’m not a fan of either party. When the party matters more than the idea, I hate that. Philosophically, I’m a free market guy, all the way, but I don’t think ideas are only in one party.” However he did endorse Tea Party darling Tony Larson in 2011 and has voted with the rest of the Planning Commission to keep breaking the law.
Why should people vote for Bell? “There are people out there that try to fix problems that don’t exist, you can’t! I want to make sure that we have a port that works. My business specializes in retrieving things in hard-to-get-to places. I hope that the port is not one of those places.”
I plan to interview all candidates for local office this year and build a thorough voter’s guide. Stay tuned for more great interviews and analysis!